J. T. Walton Newbold

Communism & the Labour Party

Source: The Communist Review, May 1923, Vol. 4, No. 1.
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2006). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

The following brief note was sent to the “Evening Standard” in reply to a lengthy report which appeared in that paper dealing with Mr. J. R. MacDonald’s contention that no members of the Labour Party had not the remotest sympathy with the policy of the Russian Communist Party. The “Evening Standard” refused to publish Comrade Newbold’s statement.

IT is a very encouraging sign of the times that so much interest is being shown in the advance of the Labour Party to the goal of office as His Majesty’s Government. Despite the differences of method that divide the Communist Party from our friends on the Labour benches, and which for the present occasion a certain amount of friction between the two elements which snake up the Labour movement, we, who have at heart the eventual triumph of the working-class cause, cannot allow any pique at Mr. MacDonald or other officials of his party to cause us to relax our general support of the forces which he leads in the House of Commons. I say, and advisedly, “forces,” for it is by no means a homogeneous body which, by a small majority on a very close vote, elected Mr. MacDonald as its leader. It is all very well for him to assert with a dogmatism usually absent from his utterances for he generally leaves in every argument a loop-hole of escape—that there is no member of the Labour Party with the very tiniest fraction of belief in Bolshevism. The statement simply is not true. Very many of the men who come from Scotland have at opportune seasons when feeling was running high, as on the occasion of the Forty Hours’ Strike and more recently, avowed their Bolshevism in the most open manner possible. The fact that they have moderated their utterances and kept studiously aloof from official relations with the Communist Party does not necessarily mean that they have altered their opinions. There is not very much to divide at least four of the Glasgow members from myself when it comes to a question of the ultimate method that will require to be employed. What does separate us is a difference of opinion as to the desirability of announcing at this stage in the struggle for power our adherence in certain eventualities, which all of us believe will occur, to the method known as the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.

Nothing could, however, be more absurd or more unjust to a man who in every fibre of his being is a constitutionalist, a respectable kirk-going citizen and a liberal-minded moralist, than to level the charge against poor Mr. Ramsay MacDonald that he is either a materialistic disciple of Karl Marx or a blood-thirsty colleague of Nicholas Lenin. Why, the whole doctrine and practice of these two men, neither of whom could claim Scottish antecedents nor Presbyterian upbringing, revolts him. Let me hasten to assure all and sundry that a most cruel injury has been done. Mr. Ramsay MacDonald has been a good bourgeois and a Liberal from his youth up and no power on earth can or will ever make him anything else. Such are the qualities which, together with a natural grace of manner, air of dignity and gift of eloquence, have made him the leader of a party whose chief ingredients are Nonconformist trade union officials and radical-minded bourgeois intellectuals who have steadily gravitated to the I.L.P. ever since the death of Keir Hardie released in that body all the middle-class influences which his sturdy proletarian personality kept under control.

Mr. MacDonald is now not only the leader of the Labour Party and of His Majesty’s Opposition, but first favourite (in the public eye) for the first Labour Premiership.

There are, however, other aspirants, to wit, Mr. Thomas, Mr. Clynes and Mr. Henderson.

The Labour Party would, probably, prefer Mr. Henderson, but the question is not whom they prefer, but for whom will the King send. In the last resort, it is the King who will decide. Now, much as “the interests” have concerned themselves with the King’s selection of one or other “defender of the faith” in private property, how much more will they seek to influence his choice of one who may commence an attack upon theirs, the one and only true religion of bourgeois society.

Mr. Clynes and Mr. Thomas would, either of them, be acceptable to “the interests.” Mr. Henderson would be a compromise acceptable to the warring “interests” within the Labour Party. Mr. MacDonald, however, is, if one may say so, marked out by the whole course of British political history to be the first Labour Premier. He typifies “continuity.”

Yet he is not secure in his succession. He must reassure the newspaper millionaires and the big business men that, despite the obstreperous elements that elevated him to the leadership of the Labour Party, he is a “safe” man. They can rest assured that if Mr. MacDonald can fulfil his pledges to them he most certainly will. The Labour Party, so far as it remains under the leadership of Mr. MacDonald, will re-enact in English history the rôle of the Presbyterian majority in the Long Parliament. It will vacillate and compromise, compromise and vacillate, until finally, through intrigue, it goes over bag and baggage to the Counter-Revolution.

Yet, for all that, the Communist Party calls upon the workers, at present, to support it. We supported it at the last election. We are supporting it in the by-elections. We shall, generally speaking, support it, in all probability at the next general election, though we shall not be content with having only two Communists in the next House. We intend to put forward candidates in every great industrial area, so as to stiffen the political labour movement in the same way that in every industrial dispute we strengthen the masses in strike and look-out.

We can afford to laugh at Mr. MacDonald and his repudiation of Bolshevism. He may seek to direct the forces of militant Labour into the channels wherein he thinks they ought to flow, but the great currents of history are infinitely stronger than the efforts of any politician or statesman, however able, can permanently control.

Mr. MacDonald is not a Marxist. So much the worse not for Marxism, but for Mr. MacDonald. Unhappily for hire and for his place in history, he has been cast for a part not in the more tranquil days of the great Liberals upon whom he has consciously modelled his political self, not in the stately parliamentary period wherein Gladstone, Bright and Cobden made their speeches and fought their eminently respectable duels across the floor, but in the crisis of a revolutionary era when his thunderous perorations and his plaintive precepts alike will be as the twittering of sparrows amid the chimneys of the House.